Living a remarkable life in a conventional world
My interview with the charismatic Chris Guillebeau of The Art of Non-Conformity
In my Travel That Changes You e-newsletter, and on my blog, I try and encourage people to breathe, dream and go. So, I cannot imagine a more perfect person to feature than Chris Guillebeau. Chris is the bright light behind The Art of Non-Conformity (AONC), the Unconventional Guides, the The Art of Non-Conformity book, a blog and online community. A prolific writer, a gifted speaker and an obsessed world traveler, he seems to have boundless energy for encouraging people to get off the hamster wheel and live life their own way.
And he leads by example. After publishing his book, The Art of Non-Conformity, he organized a very unique (and grueling) book tour that took him to every USA state and every Canadian province. When he got to my province, and spoke at the Chapters/Indigo store at the Manulife Centre in downtown Toronto, I went to hear him and interviewed him afterwards. This was stop number 58 on his tour, and he must have been exhausted — though you wouldn’t know it from his funny, upbeat and inspiring presentation.
Do what you want and do good, too
Chris is interested in the “convergence of highly personal goals and being of service to others” and he’s on a mission. He’s been to almost every country in the world (and he’s under 35), he’s published half-a-dozen or so Unconventional Guides and a book, and he’s amassed a huge Internet following.
Here is the essence of his philosophy, from his website:
- You don’t have to live your life the way other people expect you to.
- You can do good things for yourself and help other people at the same time.
- If you don’t decide for yourself what you want to get out of life, someone else will probably end up deciding for you.
- There is usually more than one way to accomplish something.
At the bookstore in Toronto, he stood up, rolled up his sleeves and spoke to a standing-room only crowd. I liked that he rolled up his sleeves, because that seems to be the way he approaches life. Chris is lean, intense and likeable. He speaks with passion and authenticity because he lives what he speaks.
A happiness first lifestyle
He talked about the importance of deciding for yourself what success looks like and using your feelings to guide you as you make decisions in life. He said that he tries to inspire action, to encourage readers to create positive change in their lives. The central question of his book is, how do you live a remarkable life in a conventional world. He speaks to the dissatisfied, for people who are looking for something different.
Chris offered the rapt audience several suggestions:
- See change as positive and start by making small changes.
- Consider that efficiency is over-rated; an alternative is to pursue meaningful adventure.
- Recognize that we are privileged to be able to talk about having a meaningful life; and ask yourself how you can contribute to the world and make it a better place.
- Ask yourself the two most important questions in the universe:
1. What do you want to get out of life?
2. What can you offer the world that no one else can?
Chris told the story of living in Sierre Leone and volunteering for four years, and pointed out how much he got from the experience, how much his life changed. He calls it selfish generosity. He encouraged people to ask good questions, embrace life as a meaningful adventure and think about your place in the world, your contribution. “What kind of legacy are we building?” he asked. Legacy is a question of influence and relationships. What will the ultimate impact of our lives be?
In spite of all his accomplishments, Chris also was careful to reassure people that his strategy has been a work-in-progress. “I began with the classic blogging strategy of making shit up.” Before taking questions from the audience, he addressed the most common concern he hears: “I want to do [blank] but I’m worried I’m too late.” His advice was to offer a quote: The best time to start was probably last year, but failing that, today will do.
After the question and answer period, I accompanied Chris and several of his Toronto-based friends to a pub in Yorkville, where I asked him several questions over a pint (Chris) and tea (me).
My top four questions, answered
Q. If you know anything about Chris, you will know he’s a very productive dynamo. My first question to him was: How do you do all the things you do?
A. Most of the things I do, I really enjoy. That’s the key. If you can structure your life around things you really enjoy and derive energy from, it gets much easier. Almost everything I do, I find meaningful and purposeful. I get tired, but feel very fortunate and grateful. Along with this, comes a sense of responsibility. Even when I have downtime, I work, but that’s okay.
Q. What’s the underlying message; what’s motivating you?
A. The fundamental underlying message is that you don’t have to live life the way others want you to, or to expect you too. You can just ignore them. It’s okay to pursue a big dream, a passion, but you should also connect that passion to other people and find out what’s your place in the world. The goal is to help people live unconventional, remarkable lives. That’s a really strong motivation. When I meet people, and hear stories, it’s very motivating.
Q. How do you, or can you, inspire people? Or is this something you have any control over?
A. I have learned that you don’t have influence over how people respond. People will relate to you for various reasons; they derive inspiration where they will. If you want to be an inspiration, the tone you use is important, as well the words, the attitude and the overall message. Be clear about your motivation and your intentions, figure it out, and then do something really great for yourself and the world.
Q. What has surprised you about your journey with AONC?
A. I was afraid I would get bored and move on. I’ve been surprised that I’m not bored at all, and that I’m extremely satisfied, and I’m more excited about what’s to come — and a lot of it is because of all the people who’ve joined the project and contributed their vision.
Thanks Chris, for inspiring me, and many thousands of other people, too. (and thanks to Janice Waugh of Solotraveler for telling me about Chris in the first place, back in August 2009.)
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